The effort to recover step increases and equivalent increases for non-represented employees that have been lost over the past decade has intensified this year, particularly as it relates to teachers.
The board, however, made a bold and clear statement in unanimously adopting its Fiscal Year 2020 budget request: If All Means All, then all employees who lost out on compensation increases should be included in the quest to restore them.
To that end, the board unanimously passed two amendments to my initial budget recommendation that added an additional $10.7 million specifically aimed at restoring lost steps or step equivalents to certain employees .
The result is a request that contains a record $48.1 million in compensation increases for all employees. While all compensation-related items must be negotiated with employee bargaining units, that amount would be sufficient to provide, among other things, $14 million for a step increase or step equivalent to all employees as well as a pool of $13.6 million that could be used to provide an additional step for certain employees, cost-of-living increases for all employees, or some other distribution – including back steps – that a bargaining unit may desire to negotiate.
Those two items are in addition to the step recovery amendments added by the board during the adoption of its budget request.
There will be those who will say that my recommendation and the board’s request do not go far enough. We cannot, however, eat the elephant in a single sitting. If we are to make progress on this issue, we must attack it incrementally.
We also must be truthful about where we are and how we got here. The $48.1 million compensation request is more than double the amount contained in any request in three of my four prior years as superintendent.
Step inequities have been created in part by lost increases due to the recession of a decade ago and by the lack of full funding of prior budget requests. For teachers and other Unit I employees, they have also been created in part by a decision developed, put forth, and negotiated by their bargaining unit to subtract steps for those hired from other jurisdictions. Teachers in those situations knew of the step subtraction and agreed to it when they came to our county.
Let’s be perfectly clear: There has been no inequitable hiring practice on our part, as some have alleged. Rather, we have hired — as we always do — in accordance with agreements negotiated with bargaining units.
Those bargaining units have been vocal about the need to see their members be made whole. Our Board and I have, in my view, taken a huge leap forward in that regard not just for represented employees, but for all employees.
There is, to be sure, an obligation on my part and that of the Board to advocate in a reasonable and balanced fashion for the needs of our school system and our children. I believe this budget request does that.
Ultimately, I trust that Pittman and the County Council will do their best to budgetarily address the needs of the entire county. There are, without question, tough decisions yet to be made in this process. I am optimistic, however, that when the council and board strike their final budgets in June, we will have made significant progress in the step restoration arena.